This article was originally published on April 4, 2014 for the APA Center for Organizational Excellence blog.
If you have followed my blog posts on mindfulness and business so far, perhaps you have an appreciation for some of the potential the development of this skill brings to the workplace. One of the reasons mindfulness has been practiced for over 2,500 years of human history is that it has great potential to foster human growth. When something stands the test of 2,500 years of use, it has probably been beneficial.
The issue though is how to make this mindfulness skill available for the workplace in a practical way.
The first question: Is this a personal skill that should be offered to interested individuals or is it an organizational skill that would benefit groups by improving the way they work?
There are some who have seen this as a personal skill to be developed on an individual basis. Successful individuals from major companies (like Goldman Sachs and the Ford Motor Company), professional actors and politicians have touted the value of mindfulness in their success and advocated it for others within their organizations.
This approach to a mindful workplace views a mindful practice as a positive personal choice that will benefit the individual who makes the decision to develop this skill. This choice will enhance the growth and development of the individual and it will benefit the organization that employs him or her.
Mindful practices enhance the whole person, not just the work-related part of the person. When an individual chooses to develop this skill as a personal choice it can result in a more satisfying work-life balance. The expected work benefits are indirect. Better employee health can lead to better organizational outcomes. The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award Winners have demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach many times.
Other organizations have introduced mindfulness as a workplace practice that is designed to systematically affect organizational performance. In his book Toyota Kata, Mike Rother details the approach in Toyota assembly plants to train the workforce and managers to use mindful awareness to make continuous improvement to the assembly process. Chade-Meng Tan began a program titled “Search Inside Yourself” at Google, providing mindfulness training for employees since 2007. Professional sports teams like the Seattle Seahawks and the World Championship Basketball teams of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, coached by Phil Jackson, also used mindfulness practices as an integrated part of the development of excellence in their teams.
In these organizations the application of mindfulness is applied very explicitly as a systematic process that is aligned with organizational goals. If there is a process for how to use an air gun on the line at Toyota, there is also a process for how to be aware of what to address in the quality improvement process. If there is a football process for blocking, there is also a mindful practice that promotes being able to stay in the moment and not be distracted by what happened on the previous play. These applications of mindfulness to the systematic work processes that contribute to organizational goals can be made explicit.
In contrast to the approach of encouraging mindfulness as a personal choice and letting the organization benefit from the development of employees in the practice, this organizational approach focuses on developing specific attentional skills in the workplace that are clearly connected to desired outcomes. The goal is to help the company succeed. The personal benefit of mindfulness is a side effect of this approach.
The Second Question: How much training is required to acquire a skill in mindfulness that will be able to be used effectively?
The standard for teaching mindfulness practices has been an eight week training class. Each class lasts between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. Some courses include an additional 8 hour retreat about midway through the program. This format allows the participants ample time to learn and practice mindfulness skills. Most participants who are consistent in their homework of daily mindfulness practice report a significant shift at around the fifth week of the course. The mindful awareness seems more accessible and its value is more keenly felt at around that time. There has been research studies that showed brain changes that are measurable after the completion of the eight week course.
There are alternative approaches that have been used for the development of mindfulness. Two and four day retreats have been offered for executives who are interested in learning these skills. There are shorter courses (four weeks) that are available. There is even some attempt to introduce mindful practices in a self help format. These alternative approaches may be effective but have not been studied as intensely.
It should be noted that the goal of mindfulness is to practice it daily. It is not effective to set a goal of gaining knowledge about mindfulness to use on occasions when it seems appropriate but to develop a habit of mindful attention that is consistent. Mindful attention allows an individual to be able to notice important events as they occur. If it will make an impact in your workplace it must be practiced daily.
The advantage of the eight week class is that it provides participants with an experiential awareness of how regular practice is important. Shorter introductions may be effective if they lead to regular use of the skills. When the workplace becomes an environment that supports this practice, it is easier to justify a brief introduction. The Seattle Seahawks started each practice with a mindfulness exercise. Google offers regular opportunities for group practice of mindfulness. This is may be less likely to be supported in organizations that advocate mindfulness as a personal choice. Often this requires that the individual set aside time in his or her schedule to bring mindful exercises into the workday.
Tips for finding resources
If your organization is advocating mindfulness as a personal choice for employees, you might consult with your wellness program to see if they have resources to provide mindfulness training to your employees. Many universities have mindfulness training programs and some psychologists (like me) offer classes in their private clinics. If you have a number of employees who are interested in learning mindfulness you might also work out a contract for mindfulness training classes at a preferred rate for your employees.
If your organization is looking to integrate mindfulness into the core skills of your business, consider a long-term consulting contract with a mindfulness trainer or hire a mindfulness trainer for your organization. It will be essential to have onsite and regular mindfulness practice if it is going to be an effective skill that will enhance your organizational outcomes. This might include opportunities for teams to engage in a brief mindfulness exercise at specific times during the work flow.
Here are some sources of additional information and resources for helping you create a more mindful organization:
- The Healthy Thinking Initiative. Full disclosure — I offer services here at my private clinic, so have financial interests in the business.
- The Institute for Mindful Leadership
- Exquisite Mind from Arnold Kozak, PhD
- Contact your state or provincial psychological association for information about psychologists who offer mindfulness classes. These classes might be called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy classes.
The content provided above is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The inclusion of any product, service, vendor or organization does not imply endorsement, recommendation or approval.